Credit: Christine Stuart photo

The legislature’s election policy committee endorsed two similar bills Wednesday that would continue pandemic policies that have eased Connecticut’s restrictions on absentee ballot voting for the past two years. 

The Government Administration and Election Committee took partisan votes on both bills during an afternoon meeting that was delayed for hours by behind the scenes negotiations between the panel’s Democratic chairs and top Republicans. 

“Over the course of the last — well, almost three hours at this point — there have been some really good conversations that have been happening,” said Sen. Mae Flexer, a Willimantic Democrat who co-chairs the panel. “I’m really grateful there seems to be a bipartisan willingness to try to find a bipartisan solution.”

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Click above to vote and comment on SB 184: AN ACT EXTENDING THROUGH NOVEMBER 8, 2022, SEVERAL CHANGES REGARDING ELECTION ADMINISTRATION AS A RESULT OF COVID-19 AND CONCERNING ELIGIBILITY TO VOTE BY ABSENTEE BALLOT

Despite those talks, Wednesday’s meeting settled into familiar debates as Republicans argued the bills conflicted with the unusually narrow restrictions on absentee ballot voting contained in Connecticut’s constitution while Democrats said they were in compliance with the state Supreme Court decision, which has allowed the practice since 2020. 

The constitution, which the legislature has begun the lengthy process of trying to change, contains specific conditions a voter needs to satisfy in order to qualify for an absentee ballot. 

Though they differ in scope and language, both bills rely on the high court’s opinion that one of those conditions, sickness, “is not limited to an illness suffered by an individual voter.” The existence of the pandemic, the court said, supported the state’s policy allowing residents to cast absentee ballots. 

During Wednesday’s meeting, Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, tried to amend one of the bill’s to add language putting perimeters on how the illness excuse is applied. The amendment failed on a party-line vote.

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Click above to vote and comment on HB 5262: AN ACT REVISING CERTAIN ABSENTEE VOTING ELIGIBILITY STATUTES

“If the majority wants it to mean simply, ‘Because illness,’ that’s the creation of no-excuse absentee voting and that’s what I have objected to,” Sampson said. “If it’s not specified whose illness, that means anyone’s and at any time anywhere and that’s too vague.”

Both bills will need to be approved by the wider legislature in order to take effect. Rep. Daniel Fox, a Stamford Democrat who is co-chair of the committee, said lawmakers would continue to work on the bills’ language in the coming days.